Sometimes, like an overfilled balloon, it’s only a matter of time before the pressure forces its way through.
That’s probably the best explanation for Leah Sully’s knee injury in the opening match of the 2010 season.
The set wasn’t perfect, but there have been far, far worse in the history of volleyball. There was no contact from the other side of the net. Sully went up and then crumpled into a heap.
Her left knee, like that overfilled balloon, just gave out. The sensational outside hitter from Irvine, Calif. was lost for the season. Surgery for the torn anterior cruciate ligament forced Sully onto crutches and there were thoughts she would never jump to her previous heights before.
“I have to be honest with you,” says UCSB’s legendary women’s volleyball coach Kathy Gregory, “when she went down, a little voice said ‘There may go our season.’”
Without Sully’s presence, UCSB finished three games over .500 and just narrowly missed a spot in the NCAA postseason. It allowed Kara Sherrard to step up and claim a deserved place on the All-Big West Freshman Team.
It also allowed Sully to re-evaluate.
“It was frustrating,” she said.
A torn ACL to a person who makes a sporting career out of jumping so often would be like taking the steering wheel away from a long-haul truck driver. Everyone around the Gaucho program feared the worst for Sully’s previously bright future.
As a freshman she finished third on the team in kills and second in digs. She was a big part of UCSB’s 2009 NCAA Tournament team. Now, it all seemed lost; she would be relegated to the back row.
“When Kathy told me that I would have to be a libero, that really motivated me because I like hitting,” Sully said. “A lot.”
As soon as she was able to, Sully began working. And working. And working.
She put in countless hours with UCSB Director of Sports Performance, Dr. Jeremy Bettle and then even more time at Peak Performance Project in downtown Santa Barbara.
“In the beginning, it was hard to get into it because I was sore evertime,” Sully recalled. “After a few weeks I was excited to go because I could see the results coming so quickly.”
Those results turned into a higher jump – “two to three inches,” she said – and a better level of fitness.
“I never would have expected to be in the best shape after an injury like that,” Sully said.
And, there was another thing that Sully was able to accomplish with her time on the bench.
“I noticed a lot more about (the game) and the other team,” she said. “I noticed things they were doing that I would want to fix on the court.”
Now she has that chance. And not as a libero.
“If anything I got a lot more mentally focused and realized how much I really love the game,” she said. “I pushed myself to get better. I realized anything can happen and to play like you might not play again and to do your best all the time.”
Leah recently sat down to answer 20 questions about herself.
1. What are your favorite things to do when you're not
Go to the beach, bake, watch movies
2. If you were on a deserted island and could bring only three things, what would they be?
My computer, my dog, and an endless supply of In n Out
3. What is your favorite class you've taken at UCSB?
Geography of Surfing
4. Do you have any role models?
My sister, Alaina
5. What's the best part about waking up in Santa Barbara every day?
Being so close to the beach and hearing the waves outside your window
6. What's your favorite TV show?
Criminal Minds or That 70s Show
7. What will you miss most about life at UCSB after you graduate?
Just about everything
8. What actress would play you in a movie about your life?
9. What is your favorite movie?
10. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I usually put on a jersey before every game, I've been doing it since I started playing volleyball
11. Who is your favorite musical artist or band?
John Mayer, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
12. What's your favorite spot on campus?
Rob Gym, of course
13. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
14. What is your favorite UCSB sport to watch besides your own?
15. Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite book?
Anything by Chelsea Handler
16. What is one thing about you that most people do not know?
Bin candy is my weakness
17. What professional sports teams, if any, do you follow?
18. In one word how would you describe UCSB Volleyball?
19. What are your goals once volleyball is over, once you have to be a career person?
I think I hate this question
20. If you had a book written about your life, what would the title be?
Life with Kathy Gregory
Bonus: What is your favorite meal to cook?
I prefer eating Erica Lau's cooking